By Lynn O’Neill

The Nest of Ojai is a casual dining operation but don’t let the window-order/table-delivery service fool you, the food here is top-notch.

The large outdoor patio containing a sizable and lovely olive tree in the center enhances The Nest’s rustic and hip vibe. The incredible views of the Topa-Topa mountain range are on full display for guests to enjoy while they perch, sip on signature cocktails, and wait for their food to get delivered. One drink selection that has the internet buzzing is the Cable Car. This vodka-fizz, watermelon black pepper shrub, lime, and Thai basil concoction will make your taste buds sing!

The murals on the walls and ample natural lighting are an Instagram diner’s dream. The striking and simple black-lined drawings, commissioned by local artist Daren Thomas Magee, depict the menu’s land, sea, and garden theme and gives the space an artistic touch as well as an appealing backdrop for social media enthusiasts.

The same black hand-drawn art repeats on the cover of the menu that opens up to find the three carefully curated categories specifically designed to “provide something for everyone,” says Kiona. “My mother is a vegan, and she was a big inspiration for me to create a place where there are real options for both vegetarians and vegans, and not just a veggie pasta or burger.” An excellent choice is the Wachter Hay & Grain Pizza named after her grandparents’ former local feed store. It’s a thin and crispy crust pizza topped with hot melted vegan mozzarella cheese and seasonal vegetables.

A Place To Call Her Own

The Nest originally envisioned, named, and operated in the early 1980’s by Kiona’s father, Eric Wachter, and godmother, Lynn Katzoff. The small but flourishing business offered home-style cuisine and homemade pies baked by Kiona’s grandmother. The eventual ebb and flow of life shifted focus to other opportunities, and The Nest said farewell to the Ojai Valley.

Eric Wachter continued his career in food service at his Ventura Pier seafood restaurant, Eric Ericsson’s, where Kiona gained her experience and passion for food. When the time came to give the operation a face-lift, it was she who envisioned and implemented the restaurants rebranding to the more casual and informal counter-order service known today as Beach House Fish and Beach House Tacos.

A few years after the Beach House re-launch, Kiona set her sights to her hometown in Ojai to open a restaurant that was “truly her own.” Honing in on her skills of reinvention, she resurrected a ghost from her family dining past and reintroduced The Nest once again to the Ojai community. “Those who remember the first restaurant were excited to see which items were going to return on the new menu. And a few of the classics have come back but with my signature twist,” said Kiona. “Like the Tico salad, the recipe is essentially the same; greens, ground beef, beans, cheese, tomato, avocado, and Fritos, but instead of using a ready-to-use Thousand Island dressing, I use my recipe made in-house from scratch.”

The Best Recipes Come From the Best Ingredients

The remainder of The Nest’s ambitious menu plays to Kiona’s culinary expression of modern comfort food, such as the foodie favorite, Black Boa Buns. These black squid ink buns baked on site are stuffed with seasoned shredded duck, pickled veggies, and fermented chili aioli. Not only is this dish visually appealing, it’s downright tasty.

Ingenuity aside, Kiona’s secret to creating her bold flavor profiles is credited to using organic, locally sourced ingredients. “I would say 85% of our menu is organic, down to the flours that we use,” she says. To help her with sourcing, she turns to longtime friend and Jordano’s Account Executive, Ryan Connell. Kiona warmly recollects sitting with Ryan before The Nest opened to the public to go over lists of what she was going to need for the kitchen and operation as a whole. “Ryan is just the nicest person, and he’s a friend. I can talk to him about anything, both personally and professionally.”

Ryan works closely with Kiona to ensure that orders are scheduled and delivered to her location, including protein items from the Jordano’s Center of the Plate program. Staying in tune with Kiona’s preference of using primarily organic products, the Center of the Plate program gives The Nest access to sustainable protein producers like Snake River Farms and Mary’s Organic Chickens at a competitive price point.

“I think because Jordano’s is a local supplier and smaller than some of the national names, operators may assume that equates to higher prices, but they’re wrong,” she says. “I’ve been working with Ryan and Jordano’s for a long time because I can ask for just about anything and somehow Ryan always finds a way to get it for me. Even if that means picking it up at your will call and driving it to me.”

From one family business to another, Jordano’s Foodservice prides itself on providing businesses like The Nest with the best products available and outstanding customer service. Watcher has undeniably made an impression on the Ojai Valley with her inspired and exceptional menu offerings. Combined with a friendly staff and a great atmosphere, her restaurant is guaranteed to soar.